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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

STRONGER THEN DESIRE (1939)

M-G-M tried teaming Virginia Bruce & Walter Pidgeon on a pair of programmers in ‘39, but it didn’t take. Pidgeon went on to Greer Garson while Bruce just . . . went on. This second outing has Pidgeon as a society lawyer (the title of their first film) and Bruce now plays his devoted, but neglected wife. She goes in for a bit of flirting in an attempt to get even, but it backfires tragically when some harmless letters lead to a blackmail attempt; an accidentally fired gun; and a murder charge against the dead man’s unhappy wife (Ann Dvorak). Now, a guilt-ridden Bruce needs to coax her husband into taking on the case and giving up their long delayed European holiday. It’s a decent, if familiar, set-up, and there’s some nifty Agatha Christie-style twists in the final courtroom scenes. But the pathological accents needed to make Lee Bowman’s suave blackmailer a real threat are missing. Or rather, they’re given to Rita Johnson, the rich bitch Pidgeon defends in the opening reels. Her stalking routine, which Bruce misreads as a two-way affair, is the most interesting thing in here. (Johnson & Pidgeon co-starred that same year in Jacques Tourneur’s NICK CARTER.) Here, under the paceless megging of supporting actor turned journeyman director Leslie Fenton, even the normally vivid Ann Dvorak barely registers.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The original SCARFACE/’32 keeps Dvorak’s name fitfully alive, but try THREE ON A MATCH/’32, alongside Bette Davis & Joan Blondell, to see her at her best.

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